Carbon Care – How Not to Mess Up Your Carbon Bike Parts

By Aaron T. - Copywriter

If you’re like me and cut your teeth turning wrenches on old-school BMX bikes, then you might remember such classics as standing on a crescent wrench while your buddy held your bike so you could get your wheels “nice and tight.”  Ah, the good old days…we were young and stupid, chromoly was tough, and parts were cheap to replace when we went all David Banner on our bikes.

Well, now riders are increasingly obsessed with coveted carbon (and for good reason, carbon is lighter, stiffer, and higher performing than other materials). Now we have carbon frames, forks, stems, seatposts, wheels, you name it, and that inner Neanderthal who emerges every time a man gets a tool in his hand needs to step back into the stone age. Why? Because while carbon can be shaped to have torsional strength in all the right places, it certainly has its vulnerabilities – and it ain’t cheap. So here are a few tips to take care of your carbon bike parts.


There’s simply no need to go all Bruce Banner on your bike.


This totally killer carbon road frame is now in a totally killer dumpster because of over tightening of the seat clamp.

Don’t over tighten bolts – This is not only true for carbon; you can strip the life out of aluminum pretty easily too. But carbon components are particularly easy to smash, crush, and otherwise murder if you over tighten bolts. Many a seat post, fork (steer tube), seat rail, and handlebar has gone the way of the Dodo at the hand of some overzealous mechanic. But alas! Most manufacturers now include a torque recommendation (in Newton Meters or Nm) right on their components so you can get them nice and snug without doing any damage.  All you need is a bicycle torque wrench…and voila! You won’t tighten beyond the setting because the wrench has a built-in click that reports at the desired torque.  And if you heretofore thought Newton Meters measured how fruity and chewy stuff is, it’s okay…there are others like you.


A Nashbar torque socket wrench set goes for sixty bucks and has all kinds of uses – especially for bikes.


Use the handle to set to the desired torque.


Many components print torque recommendations right on the part.

Avoid Side Impacts to Carbon Tubing – Even a seemingly tiny blemish in carbon tubing can actually be the beginning of a massive bummer. Keep your keister out of Youtube’s “Worst Bike Fails” by following some special guidelines. For starters, take care of your bike. Sad but true…it’s possible for a carbon frame to get a hole punched in it just by falling the right way on a rock, brick, tool, etc. Be cautious where you lean your bike…in fact, keep it hanging as much as possible if you can.

NOTE: All that said, don’t live in fear. Anyone who has gone carbon can tell you that it’s well worth the extra skrilla. Carbon fiber is very tough stuff, and carbon bikes and parts are designed to deliver a safe, worry-free riding experience.

We all crash occasionally, and if we have carbon bikes, odds are they’ll be okay – but do give it the once over just in case. Any dings or scuffs can be examined with the “nickel test.” It’s as simple as it sounds. Lightly tap a nickel against the tubing on either side of the area in question, keep tapping over the area and onto the other side. If the sound deadens over the damage area, take your bike to a pro to check it out because it has possibly suffered a fatal blow that can be totally dangerous to the rider. If you’re not comfortable with the nickel test, check for damage by shining a bright LED flashlight onto the area in question. If there appears to be any irregularity beyond the top coat, especially visible actual fibers, have a professional check it out.

Remember, frame damage on any material can pose a serious risk to the rider.  These tests merely assist you in determining superficial damage. Any damage remotely in question should be taken up with a professional.

Take care of surface dings –  Sometimes a mishap will do superficial damage to the powdercoat your carbon. After all the crying and cursing is over, take care of these blemishes, scratches, and scuffs by stopping them in their tracks. Paint some clear (or colored if that’s your thing) nail polish over the scuff to prevent further spreading of damage to the finish. It’s not perfect looking…but who wants to be riding around on the George Clooney of bikes?

A surface scratch poses no safety risk, but could get bigger.

A surface scratch poses no safety risk, but could get bigger.

Clear nail polish stops it in its tracks.

Clear nail polish stops it in its tracks.

Finish Line Fiber Grip - small investment, big return.

Finish Line Fiber Grip – small investment, big return.

To Grease or not to Grease? – Rule #1 is don’t use regular grease on carbon parts – you’re stuff will be sliding all over the place no matter how tight it is. Carbon paste such as Finish Line Fiber Grip serves two functions. The first is to create a layer of friction for carbon-on-carbon situations (e.g. seat post to seat tube or stem to steer tube). A thin layer of paste will prevent slippage when parts are tightened to the recommended torque. The second function of Fiber Grip is to prevent carbon fusing to metal. Anyone who’s ever had a seat post stuck in a frame can tell you what a nightmare it is – well, the same can happen with a carbon seat post and metal frame (or the inverse).

Going carbon is a fully exciting pursuit. Just the weight savings alone pays massive dividends…but the performance improvements are huge too. Geeks who walk around with math problems in their head that would have most of us sweating in the fetal position have been developing carbon fiber technology for decades–and it shows. There’s never been a better time to get onto a new carbon bike; they’re lighter, stronger, faster, and cheaper than ever…especially at Nashbar.

See you ’round the Sprocket!

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
One comment on “Carbon Care – How Not to Mess Up Your Carbon Bike Parts
  1. steve timmerman says:

    Been working on and riding road bikes since 1970, bought a Gitane tour De France. Still got the beast. Great little article thanks, I thank you and my Fuji CCR2 thanks you.